The past year has been one of the worst ever for human rights in our country. The government has decided to increase attacks on human rights organisations, the oldest of which has existed since dissident times: the Moscow Helsinki group. For the first time in Russia’s recent history, the group was deprived of its grant support. As a result of this, it was unable to pay most of its employees, myself included. The court also liquidated the largest organisation in Russia: For Human Rights. Memorial was also mercilessly fined and in a two-week period two deputy heads of the Committee for Civic Rights, an NGO led by Andrei Babushkin, were arrested, after which NTV and other TV channels broadcast programmes demonizing the human rights activists. Moreover this was done at a time when it became clear that the Public Oversight Commissions that oversee observance of human rights in prisons, were again staffed almost wholly by people with backgrounds in law enforcement, and civil society activists were not included among their members.
Opportunities for the protection of human rights have become noticeably rarer. What will happen if the government destroys all human rights organisations? Where will those people whose rights will be violated go?! I think an attack like this on human rights defenders, including what amounted to the destruction of the Presidential Human Rights Council, is directly related to the principled position of civil society in defending the accused in the Moscow case and other prisoners of the regime.
There are more and more political prisoners in our country every year. The government has opened new criminal cases in addition to the Moscow case, including the Network and New Greatness cases. It is also important to not forget the Rostov case in which Yan Sidorov and Vlad Mordasov received six-year sentences for publicly displaying placards. The resurrection of the so-called Dadin article, which can be used to jail individuals for repeated participation in unapproved demonstrations, characterises the interest of the authorities in intimidating Russian society. Among the Kremlin’s repressive initiatives is the ‘foreign agent’ law, which permits the fining of individuals for simply liking something on social media.
I will discuss the repressive drug policy legislation separately. After the Golunov case, Putin proposed introducing criminal liability for propaganda relating to drug use. This will serve to create additional barriers for organisations that are involved in harm reduction, or fight for the rights of drug users, such as the Andrei Rylkov Foundation, Narkprosvet or Humanitarian Action. If the law is passed it will, in essence, criminalise speech. And nowadays, anyone can be sent to jail for having had drugs planted on them or for using WiFi without a password that can be hacked by others, but soon it will be even easier for the authorities to secure convictions under current drug laws.
Here the reaction of the pseudo-opposition A Just Russia party is indicative: the party of Sergei Mironov excelled itself, proposing jail terms not only for propagandising drug use but even for simply making neutral mention of drugs, which really sounds absurd! They want to be able to jail people for drug use, which is currently only punishable under administrative law, and they also for avoiding drug treatment. Under this proposed law they would be able to punish those who seek help for addiction but by-pass Russia’s ineffective punitive system of drug treatment.
Discrimination against millions of our fellow citizens on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity continues: from the murders in the North Caucasus, up to the recent beating of Ekaterina Lysykh, an 18-year-old student from St. Petersburg. Taking all this into account, the chances of and kind of law banning domestic violence looks slim; even if such a law is passed, it is unlikely that it will actually work.
Both freedom and human rights are political issues, they must not only be protected, but also gained. The slogan of the Socialist-Revolutionaries still rings true: ‘Through struggle, you will acquire your rights!’ Perhaps this current worsening of the situation is just an attempt by the authorities to intimidate citizens, to force them to give in. It’s up to us whether they are successful in doing so.
Translated by James Lofthouse